The Best In France? No.

Season 10 was a delightful one, great football, new stadium and another couple of trophies in the bag. In a slight change of stance, I decided I was at the stage where I didn’t feel I had to sell players anymore. We were financially sound and unless it was an unrealistic amount, I didn’t want to sell my main men.

The summer meant I could freshen up the squad a little bit and move on some players who I thought weren’t right for us. I didn’t need a whole new playing staff, but a couple of additions would be good, mainly to reinforce the team.

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Work gets under way

The aim for the season would be to challenge for the title again, but Champions League qualification is now a must.

More renovation work is under way at the stadium as we’re expanding again, bringing the capacity up to over 44,000.

EDIT: I’ve come back to the start, this is pretty long. Apologies, stick around, hopefully it’s worth it!

Transfers

There were to be a few casualties this summer, players who I didn’t think fit the team or in some cases, they just wanted to move on. Four players departed on the opening day of the transfer window.

Friedrich Kasongo, a player I really liked, was deemed surplus to requirements, joined Leicester for £12.5m. He was a bit part player last season and when called upon, he didn’t convince me that his future was here. I had a perfectly good option on the left and planned to bring a new striker in during the summer.

Ahmet Öztürk headed to Chelsea for £19.75m after handing in a transfer request towards the end of last season. He’d been very good for us, but with Kullman Jiménez ahead of him, his chances in the first team were greatly reduced. This opened up a space for 17 year old Zied Jaziri to be promoted to the first team.

Gaël Schweitzer joined Leeds for £275k(£325k) in a deal that was agreed in January. He was never going to get ahead of Davila so it was best for him to go.

Tiago Vieira was another one I struggled with. Our former captain had found chances harder and harder to come by. He never complained, but Ouattara was a far better option in the defensive midfield slot. He also headed for England, joining Norwich for £11.5m.

One that will probably have people confused, especially when you consider his form last year, is Ionut Radu. I’d been on the lookout for a long term goalkeeping option and when one was found, Radu had to go. Another one off to England, joining Crystal Palace for £10m. Surprised that he didn’t attract more attention really.

A couple of other youngsters departed with Héctor Rojas joining Stuttgart for £5.75m(£6.75m), Paul Etémé joining Liverpool for £675k(£1.4m) and François Chabert going to Stade Lavallois MFC for £175k(£215k).

I knew I wasn’t going to spend huge amounts this window, aiming to keep within my make more than I spend policy.

The first man in the door was Arnaldo Rojas. I tried getting him in in January, but I couldn’t get the deal done in time so I held off. I made a bid for £3.5m in April and terms were very quickly agreed. He joins with the aim of challenging Ouattara for a first team spot, he needs some training and tutoring, possibly a shave, but I’m quite happy with what he brings to the team. My scouts rated him quite highly as I never found him on an attribute search that I did. He’s certainly got plenty of growing to do. Could turn out to be a bargain signing. I’m trying to trust my scouts more and more as they’ve uncovered some great players for me so far.

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As mentioned above, I’d been on the lookout for a long term goalkeeping option for a while. I had three or four potential targets, three of them were at Hamburg. My number one target was well and truly out of my price range. No matter how much I negotiated, they wouldn’t budge. Adrian Zielinski was a second, very capable option. He’s a great goalkeeper already but he’s still quite young. He’s had plenty of first team experience in Germany which is great for us. The best part? He only cost me £7.25m. I feel like I robbed Hamburg. Maybe I’ll feel different come the end of the season. That haircut/moustache combo is a bit iffy.

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I really like David Jeanvier as my striker, but I needed/wanted another striking option. I wanted him to be French and I wanted him to be Armand Sohna. I spent a long time deciding if this was the right thing to do. I put a bid in, I pulled out of the deal, I continued looking at alternatives, but none were Sohna. I liked what he offered but I didn’t and still don’t, like the price. He cost me £40m, which I think is crazy money, but with the other deals I’d done being so low, it kept me within my budget. I hope he’s as good as I think he is and can be. He only turned 19 the day before I signed him. I’m hoping he continues to grow. His lack of scoring record is my major concern, but the alternatives weren’t much better in this respect. A big risk? Time will tell.

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Mihnea Ignat joined from CS U Craiova. I was in need of a left back due to the impending departure of Schweitzer. Again, I put faith in my scouts who found this young chap. Not to my attribute liking all the way through, but with strength in some preferred areas, it was worth a gamble, especially as I have no left backs in my reserve or youth teams. At £1.8m, it was a low risk deal. Not sure I can handle all of these moustaches.

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I made one (drunken) purchase in January. Saikou Faal was a player I’d been tracking for a couple of seasons and I really liked his skill-set. I didn’t particularly need a central midfielder (see the drunken note) but I thought he’d be a good addition. He joined from Man City for £18.25m.

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Domestic Cups

We kicked off the season in the same way we have done for the previous three years, with the Trophée des Champions. PSG were to be our opponents and we swept them away in a 4-0 victory. We had five shots on target all game. Very happy with that.

My young players played in the domestic cups again. Lyon knocked us out of the Coupe de la Ligue in the semi final, nabbing two first half goals with Arnaldo Rojas getting a consolation in a 2-1 defeat.

Lille surprised us in the French Cup 11th round, spanking us 3-0.

Ligue 1

The league campaign started off a bit funny for us, but after the first four games, we got into our stride. Scoring plenty and conceding few. We went on a few big runs of not losing but regardless of that, PSG and Lyon just did it better.

We ended the season in third place, which was quite disappointing, we scored plenty of goals, but defeats to Lyon, Nice and Lorient towards the end of the season was just too many dropped points. Our performance level was still very good, but we couldn’t see those games through. Once Lyon beat us, I knew it would be hard to finish in second place. Still, a Champions League Best Place Qualifier is not to be sniffed at.

A big gap between third and fourth. If we can be a bit tighter at the back next year, we’ll be challenging at the top again. Lyon are back in the fight now I think.

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Champions League

For the first time in three years, Arsenal were not in my Champions League group. This year we were given Stoke as our English group opponents, alongside Besiktas and Roma.

Things did not start well, two defeats on the bounce to Roma (2-0) and Stoke (2-1) made me doubt that we’d ever get out of this group. Besiktas were up next and we brushed them aside 4-2 and 3-1, it gave me hope. A trip to Rome was next, we went in 1-1 at half time, but I needed a victory. It looked like it was never going to come, but three goals in the last 8minutes gave us a 4-1 victory to leave them shell shocked! Stoke at home was to be the decider. Only a win would put us through. A 9th minute goal from Jeanvier put us 1-0 up. I needed a second, in the 66th minute it came thanks to leading man, Rubén Martinez. 2-0. Stoke piled on the pressure, nabbing a consolation in the 89th minute, but we scraped through with a 2-1 victory.

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Finishing second meant we’d get a tougher draw in the knockout round. Guess who?

We had a good record against Arsenal, so I had confidence that we could get past them and into the Quarter Final. We were at home in the first leg and all I ever want is to keep clean sheets at home. We failed to do that, but we did manage to nab a 2-1 victory thanks to goals from Jeanvier and Martinez. We had to score an away goal at the Emirates to have a chance. 2-1 was too tight, lose 1-0 and we were out. By half-time, it was all over. Goals from Martinez (2) and Sohna ensured a convincing 3-0 victory and a place in the Quarter Final.

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Who’d be next? A trip to Italy? Spain? Nope.. back to England to play Simeone’s Chelsea. A tougher tie and a reunion with former player, Joao Carvalho. Home tie first. This was a good chance to watch Sofiane Benrabah first hand, he’s a player I’ve been watching for about 3 years.

It was a very tight first half with two very quick goals to go in 1-1 at half time. After the break Chelsea grabbed their second to go ahead, but two goals in two minutes turned the fixture on its head. A 92nd minute penalty ended the game with us winning 4-2! Conceding two away goals meant we had to have a good game in London.

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RIP Sohna

Things didn’t start well for Chelsea as Frenchman Corentin Tolisso was sent off for one of those lunging tackles that FM throws up every once in a while.

Being down to ten men didn’t seem to phase Chelsea, they coped very well and took the lead after 15mins. It lasted less than a minute as Martinez equalised. 1-1 at half time again. Again, Chelsea scored just after the break to go 2-1 up. In the 68th minute, another goal. Ah fuck, out we go on away goals. Not like this.. please, not like this.

MARTINEZ!!! 74th minute to put us 6-5 up on aggregate and through to the semi final! FUCK YEAH!

Watching these games back has been a delight so far.

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So where next? Well, it wasn’t somewhere warm!

Manchester United, a head-to-head with Mourinho. Lovely! Bayern faced Juventus in the other semi final. Yet again, we were at home first. We faced Man Utd in the first knockout round last season and lost 3-1 over the two legs. With a good performance, we could get something.

And get something we did. We didn’t dominate the game, but we took our chances. Goals from Faal (11), Montes OG (22) and a brace from Martinez (46, 62) put us in control of the tie. Watching this game makes me the proudest of the whole run. Can definitely see me doing some analysis on this game.

Off to Manchester… please don’t concede, please don’t concede. Nobody did, a tense, boring 0-0 and we’ve only gone and got to the bloody Champions League final!

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Auxerre v Bayern Munich, Saturday 5th June, 2027, Estadio de Madrid. 70,000 fans.

I’m still shocked that I made it to the bloody final, in fact, I’m amazed that I swept aside three English teams in the way that I did. Chelsea gave me a scare, but Man Utd (who have been dominant under Jose) should’ve been a much harder game.

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This is the first time Bayern have been in the Champions League for three years and they’ve marched all the way to the final. I’m expecting a tough game.

Bayern setup with the plan to keep Champions League top scorer, Ruben Martinez, out of the game. They played a 4231 and we stuck with our very successful 4123. We were missing a couple of players through injury, Barone being the big miss and Orishani at the back. I was confident the replacements, M’Madi and Sigurdsson were good enough to give us a chance.

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Mærøe scores

Bayern were in charge of the game, getting into the final third and creating chances, but we were quite tight defensively. In the 22nd minute, we seized our chance. A ball from Sohna was played into the channel in the hope of meeting the advancing Mærøe, but it was intercepted. However, I witnessed one of the worst back passes that was played directly into Mærøe’s feet and he struck low and hard beyond the Bayern goalkeeper. 1-0 Auxerre.

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Short passes are overrated

We never usually play that direct, despite our attacking mentality. However, with Bayern pressing us quite high, it forced us to go long. We tend to play out from the back, but Bayern’s front four were blocking my goalkeepers passing lanes, so he smashed it into the middle of the park and found Martinez in some space. He cleverly switched it over to the right and we were behind Bayern’s backline, two passes and we were in. Mærøe was in and with only one option in the middle, he smashed it to the back post where Sohna hit it beyond the goalkeeper. 2-0!

I couldn’t believe it. 2-0 up, Champions League Final… what is life?

But there was more, three minutes later, Mærøe was up to no good on the right and popped another ball towards the far post, this time it was met by Martinez who hit the inside of the far post before Bayern cleared.

Just before half time, Mac M’Madi had another great chance, shooting from about twelve yards out forcing a great save from the keeper.

Half time came and went, chances passed us by, but Bayern could not break us down, they started pushing towards the end of the second half, but it was too late and we were already celebrating.

Auxerre: Champions Of Europe!

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Unreal. I thought if I could hold onto my star players this year, we could start progressing in Europe, but to win it, well.. I’m delighted! A one off that I think we’ll struggle to match.

Team

I’m wary that this is a large post. My front three were amazing, Martinez, Mærøe and Sohna were incredible at times. Martinez walked away with Fans Player Of The Year award, with 76% of the vote! I’m not going to harp on about the players, I’ll just say I’m pretty happy with the additions I made to the squad and what they brought to it.

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Season 12 is under way. I’ve got a lot of work on at the moment, so playing time is greatly reduced. I’m away all of next week so it might be a little while before I get my next update out.

Thanks for reading, I appreciate this was long, but Champions League.. awesome!

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